Maggie O’Farrell is a brilliant writer. She is skilled at describing things in new and surprising ways. This is the third of her books I’ve read (and coincidentally it’s her third novel).
The story follows twenty-somethings Jake and Stella as their separate journeys eventually merge into a confrontation of their own secrets and a possible romance. The narrative switches often between them and also their family members. Flashbacks reveal the central experiences of the characters’ lives. It’s not really about Jake and Stella’s relationship. The focus, increasingly towards the end, is on the tense bond between Stella and her older sister, Nina. I wasn’t expecting this, but as I didn’t like Jake much, it suited me. Nina is a fascinating character, both emotionally and physically damaged, with a reckless streak and a fierce heart. The variety of settings within Scotland, London and Hong Kong are realistically evoked. I was always interested to read on, as I genuinely couldn’t predict what was coming.
My only criticism of the book is that with Jake sliding out of focus somewhat, one of his story arcs is not resolved. I felt that he deserved to have this mystery sorted out. I suppose that O’Farrell is demonstrating how real life is full of loose ends which will never be tied up, but this gave me a dissatisfied feeling about the book when I’d finished it. Overall, however, I was impressed with the writing quality and the complexity of the characters.
If you’re looking for contemporary fiction with raw emotion, realism and a little mystery, then give this book a try.
First published in 2004.